MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine-US “Balikatan” (shoulder-to-shoulder) military exercises kick off Friday amid fears that these are being used to prepare for a “major attack” by the US.
Expected to attend the event at Camp Aguinaldo are Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Defense Secretary Voltaire T. Gazmin, US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, AFP Chief of Staff General Emmanuel T. Bautista, AFP Command and General Staff College Commandant Major General Virgillo O. Domingo, and US Deputy Exercise Director Brigadier Generak Richard M. Simcock II.
Over 8,000 troops will participate in the joint military training scheduled until April 17 in Central Luzon.
After the US announced that it would deploy 20 of its air assets for the activities, 12 fighter jets or F/A-18 Hornets from the US military will arrive in Clark, Pampanga in the upcoming days, said Balikatan spokesman Major Emmanuel Garcia.
The “Hornets” are twin-engine supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable fighter jets, designed to attack ground targets which have been used by the US Navy as demonstration aircraft since 1986.
The USS Tortuga, the only US ship participating in the exercises, arrived Monday in Manila Bay.
Meanwhile, the Philippine military will use nine of its aircraft from the Philippine Air Force to assist Filipino and American troops in the ongoing Balikatan activities while the Philippine Navy will deploy one of its Islanders and two vessels.
This year’s Balikatan will be focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR), the fourth time it will do so since 2008 when the exercises started being held every other year.
Officials from Australia, Brunei, Japan, Republic of Korea, and Thailand will join with high ranking officers from the AFP and US Military in the Multinational Maritime Security Roundtable Discussion at Camp Aguinaldo.
Left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) criticized the staging of this year’s Balikatan exercises, saying “something sinister” is going on with the frequent docking of US warships the country and the rapid deployment of thousands of American military forces on frequent basis under the Visiting Forces Agreement.
“Are we in a state of war with a nation, which is not our enemy, but critical of Washington DC and the US military game plan of aggression in Asia and the Pacific? If not, how come the Philippine government has allowed more than 4,000 US military forces to come to the country on rapid deployment mode and rotation basis?” said Salvador France, vice chairperson of Pamalakaya in a press statement.
“Imagine an average of 3,000 to 4,000 US troops come here almost every quarter or semi-annually just for VFA. Just read between the lines the joint and separate statements issued by the US Embassy in Manila and the Office of the President and you will find out that the American mercenaries and invading forces of Washington DC are preparing for a major attack comparable to US war of aggression in Afghanistan. Iraq and Libya,” he added.
The Communist Party of the Philippines also warned about the deployment of US troops and its assets in the upcoming days, saying it is a “display of extreme contempt against Philippine sovereignty and a show of force in the face of heightened US war preparations in the Korean peninsula.”
“By pushing through with the Balikatan 2013 exercises amidst increasing military tensions in the Korean peninsula, the Aquino regime is allowing the Philippines to be dragged by the US government to its military conflicts against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” said the CPP.
“The CPP denounces the US military and government for deceiving the Filipino people about the real intention of the so-called joint military exercises which are being portrayed by the US as serving humanitarian assistance and disaster preparedness,” it added.
“For the past several years, the US has been using humanitarian and disaster operations in order to surreptitiously carry out combat and intelligence operations and setup their spy and communications network and infrastructure.”